Hoo-boy there’s a lot of wrestling this week, isn’t there? Fortunately for us, most of it is really good and exciting wrestling. While the lights may shine brightest on WrestleMania, NXT is looking to continue the trend of TakeOver specials outshining their main roster rivals. The card for TakeOver: New Orleans is STACKED, and looks set to make a lot of new stars on the yellow brand. From debutants like King Ricochet to the grudge match we’ve all been waiting for, Saturday night’s alright for fighting — and TakeOver is going to bring the heat!
Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa (Unsanctioned; if Gargano wins he is reinstated)
Here it is, the ultimate battle of good and evil played out between two of the most charismatic performers in WWE. On one side, Johnny Wrestling, the pure-hearted babyface who was betrayed by his former friend and is now fighting to keep his dream of wrestling for the biggest promotion in the world(‘s developmental fed). On the other, F--k-face Ciampa, an evil troll who stabbed his best friend in the back to rise up the card and is fighting to keep his rival out of the company. Can the plucky Gargano rise above the Psycho Killer?
Brian: Out of all the “must see” matches on this TakeOver, this is the one that I am most looking forward to. It has had one of the best build-ups since Ciampa’s injury and the dastardly, cowardly attack on our hero, Johnny Gargano. Ciampa has embraced his “Psycho Killer” gimmick and nearly every member of the NXT Universe is on board. Note to you losers cheering Ciampa: there’s a special place in Hell for you.
Winner: Gargano in a Fight Forever match that ends in the Garga-No Escape
Nathaniel: At the previous TakeOver, Gargano wrestled in the front-runner for Match of the Year. This match has been building for around two years and will be a different kind of awesome. A Gargano win would be a cool blow-off but he would be better helping 205 Live.
Winner: Tommaso Ciampa putting him in line for a NXT Title shot
Patrick: In my mind, this is the main event. This is the best NXT storyline in recent memory, and maybe in the promotion’s short history. There is so much emotion behind it, you really could see Johnny Wrestling become the next Daniel Bryan when he makes it to the main roster. Given he is a little smaller than D-Bry, and there is a renewed interest in 205 Live, though, I agree with Nathaniel that he would be better served on the purple brand. And as much as I’d like to see Gargano pull it off with a storybook ending, those never quite seem to come for him. And that’s part of the reason why he’s so endearing.
Winner: Tommaso Ciampa
Jason: This is a hard one to pick because, honestly, how much longer are you going to keep these two on the yellow brand? Both of these guys are ready for prime time, and if you’re hoping to make 205 Live something people care about, why not bring them up to headline the purple one? That being said, I’m going to give this to Ciampa, and have Gargs head up to main. Ciampa can go on a tear in NXT, maybe pick up the North American title for a brief run, then make his main roster debut to cost his nemesis his shot at the Cruiserweight Title.
Winner: F--k-Face Ciampa
Undisputed Era (c) vs. Authors of Pain vs. Roderick Strong and Pete Dunne (NXT Tag Team Championship)
So the Undisputed Era are pitched as these super clever heels who outwit their foes when they can’t just beat them up. So how stupid was it for them to jump into the final match of the Dusty Rhodes Classic and cause a double disqualification? When has that ever not led to a three-way match? Come on, Adam Cole (bay bay)! With Bobby Fish down with an injury, it sounds like Cole may have to pull double duty, or O’Reilly will have to go it alone. Can the Undies stand up to the Authors of Pain and Dunne-Strong?
Brian: I hate playing the “Who’s leaving for the Main Poster” game, but let’s play. There’s not much left for AoP to accomplish in NXT. I assume that they will be picked up to either Raw or SmackDown Live post-Mania. As much as I’d like to see Roddy pick up a title in NXT, I’m thinking that he will most likely become a mainstay on 205 Live and Pete Dunne is busy touring the world on Papa Haitch’s Indy World Tour defending his United Kingdom Championship. My prediction, btw, does NOT mean the The Undisputed Era is somehow the default winners. They are a great heel faction that I believe will choose Option 4 and add a new surprise member to their ranks so that Adam Cole (Bay-bay) can stay fresh for the NA Title match. TUE retains, ready to face War Machine after the roster shake-up.
Winners: The Undisputed Era
Nathaniel: It is pretty cool to see Future Shock together on Mania weekend, it just sucks that it had to be at the expense of Bobby Fish needing surgery. Cole and O’Reilly are a great team and will be fine champs until Fish comes back.
Winners: The Undisputed Era in a fun match
Patrick: Authors of Pain have really surprised me over their tenure in NXT. Pairing them with Paul Ellering was a brilliant move, and they have become a legitimate powerhouse tag team that’s fun to watch. I’m interested to see them mix it up with some of the established teams on the main roster. And I think that’s what we’re going to get after Mania, because there’s no way the Undisputed Era is done with those tag team titles yet.
Winners: Undisputed Era
Jason: This one should be good, and should operate as a great send off for the Authors of Pain. Those fellas need to come up to main and be the hoss team that takes the belts off Braun and Brains Strowman. As for Dunne and Strong, they’re a fun team – and I love seeing Dunne worked into central NXT continuity because that dude’s a star — but it doesn’t make sense to give them the belts. I feel like UE and their stupid hand signal are the only things that make sense. I don’t see Cole taking home the North American title, so let him and Kyle run with the tag belts for a while.
Winners: Undisputed Era with a sneaky win
Ember Moon vs. Shayna Baszler (c) (NXT Women’s Championship)
What happens when a red-eyed ninja werewolf faces off with a terrifying MMA badass? Hopefully magic. These two put on a decent match at the last TakeOver, but it was marred by a pretty crummy ending. This go around, let’s hope the ending comes naturally and (relatively cleanly). Can Ember, and her perennially injured shoulder, survive another round with the Queen of Spades?
Brian: I’m really not sure on this one. Ember Moon is probably ready to be brought up and Shayna Baszler could use some more polish in NXT before being brought to Raw to begin the new Four Horsewomen faction with Rousey, Sonya Deville, and someone else. This is pure speculation on my part, btw. I think that a Survivor Series match between the two “Horsewomen” factions would be fantastic. MMA-style wrestlers on one side with the “legit” wrestlers on the other. Anyway, I think Shayna has to win this after losing several big matches in a row.
Winner: Shayna Baszler after destroying Ember Moon, allowing Moon time for vignettes before debuting on SDL
Nathaniel: Moon is much better in the role of challenger and Baszler’s time has come. Plus Baszler and Sane need to have their rubber match. May as well make it for the highest stakes possible.
Winner: Baszler by tapout
Patrick: Much like Authors of Pain, I’m not sure there’s much more for Ember Moon to get out of NXT. She’s a phenomenal (or should I say…ugh…she-nomenal) babyface, and should be able to make a career out of chasing people like Charlotte, Jax or a heel Sasha. Baszler, on the other hand, is already pretty gifted, but needs a lot more time in the oven. I would have no problem with her keeping the NXT Women’s Championship for a good while, though, and like Nathaniel said, giving something for Kairi to chase.
Winner: Shayna Baszler
Jason: The only rematch on the card, this CANNOT end the same way their first go around did. While I thought Ember managing to turn the armbar into a sneaky pin was clever, having her survive it as long as she did was a little silly. Baszler is on a tear and absolutely deserves to be top heel on the yellow brand. That woman is legit terrifying. NXT always functions best when plucky babyfaces are chasing the belt, and I expect Ember to return to that role for a few months before she’s called up to SmackDown and Kairi Sane takes over as lead face for the yellow brand.
Adam Cole vs. EC3 vs. Killian Dain vs. Lars Sullivan vs. Velveteen Dream vs. Ricochet (Ladder match for the NXT North American Championship)
How long have fans been clamoring for a mid-card title on NXT? There have been a lot of talented midcarders who have come through developmental that just never earned gold because there was always somebody bigger (and often better) to hold the big gold belt. People like Tyler Breeze or Tye Dillinger never got a chance to hold a title while they were in their prime, and with the introduction of the North American Championship, that all comes to an end. Now, we don’t have to worry (as much) every time Papa Haitch comes home with an armful of new toys that our indie favorites won’t get any love. They picked one hell of a roster to vie for the title, too. Who will win out? The new and exciting indie darling? The prodigal son returned? The homegrown newcomer who seems to get better with every outing? The opportunistic heel who the crowd loves (bay bay)? The monster who is more beast than man? Or the…other…monster who is more beast than man…but has an Irish accent?!?!?!
Brian: I LOVE THE NEW BELT! Papa Haitch is such an NWA mark and it’s just wonderful. I assume that this will be the title that they send around to the North American independents. The WWE UK Championship gets defended in PROGRESS, Evolve, maybe even wXw or WWN. The WWE NA Championship gets…PWG? That would be pretty cool. I think everyone here could do great things with a title, but if we’re aiming towards an indy tour, I’d eliminate Dain, Sullivan, and Dream. EC3 is a long shot as I think he’ll be in the NXT Title hunt soon. Adam Cole (Bay-bay) or freaking Ricochet? I think The Undisputed Era bats 1000 on Saturday and Adam Cole (Bay-bay) stands tall after an amazing spotfest that blows the roof off the arena.
Winner: Adam Cole (Bay-bay)
Patrick: This match is gonna be a hell of a lot of fun. It will be surreal to see Ricochet and EC3 in a WWE ring (yes I know EC3 is former WWE talent, but that seems like eons ago to the point where Derrick Bateman is an entirely different person), and that’s a lot of the allure for this match. More than any one person involved in the match, though, the North American Championship experiment is the one to watch coming out of this one. The other three men in this match are awesome in their own right, but I think it’s going to come down to the King and EC3. It’s close, but I’ll go with Ricochet.
Jason: I’m really looking forward to this insanity, and really enjoy all of these guy’s work…well, 5/6 of them. I don’t really get the appeal of Adam Cole at this point. Nonetheless, I think this is Ricochet’s match. Dude is a spectacular sight to see, and has the potential to be an absolutely huge star for WWE when they start selling his merch. I think Sullivan and Dain will continue their feud, Cole is going to be caught up in the tag world now that Fish is out of commission, and EC3 belongs in the hunt for the NXT title. I’d say let Dream be Ricochet’s first feud and watch all the indie smarks flock to NXT live events to see them tear it down.
Winner: King Ricochet
Nathaniel: World Heavyweight, United States, National, National Tag, World Tag, World Television, Mid Atlantic, U.S. Tag, World Six Man Tag, Junior Heavyweight, Western States Heritage. These are just a few of the titles that were on Crockett Television in the mid eighties. I grew up on the NWA and 85-87 JCP may be my favorite wrestling promotion ever. But if there was one thing the WWF did better than the NWA, it was keeping belts to a minimum. I do not think that NXT is planning to have a boatload of titles, but I don’t want to see every continent represented by a belt either. I also don’t need NXT mixing with the indies. I grew up in the territory era and I miss the variety it offered. That’s not to say that all indies are better than the WWE (many are horrible), but I like having options. I wouldn’t be surprised if at one time the idea was for an Undisputed Era sweep, but Fish’s injury changes that. Ricochet will get a belt eventually, but it should be built. EC3 would be a fine first champ.
Winner: EC3 in a blowaway match.
Andrade “Cien” Almas (c) vs. Aleister Black (NXT Championship)
It would have been easy to let Almas coast on his instant classic with Johnny Gargano on the last TakeOver. That five-star encounter, coupled with his great showing in the Royal Rumble the following night, has finally cemented Almas as a top tier performer…who needs a mouthpiece. Still, Almas finally looks like a real competitor, and he’s going to need to channel that because he’s going up against maybe the second most over guy on the roster in Aleister Black. The fighting Dutchman hasn’t been sweating the former La Sombra much in recent weeks, but a brutal beatdown during a recent NXT taping may have finally lit a fire under his (presumably heavily tattooed) ass. Can the black metal kickboxer best the suit wearing top knot for the grandest prize in all of NXT?
Brian: Until his build up with Gargano, I wasn’t fully sold on Almas. He’s changed my mind completely. Dude has the look, the skills, and now the pure viciousness that makes a fantastic heel. Zelina Vega has made him 1000x better just by being his mouthpiece and getting her tiny self up in the faces of so many people. Aleister Black, however, cares not for her taunting. He just wants to knock people’s heads off. I think Almas could be an amazing addition to the IC title picture – eventually – and Black has the potential to be a World Champion someday. This one’s going to be fantastic and will raise the bar for Mania another few notches higher.
Winner: Almas after interference by Vega
Patrick: Man, I said the first match was my main event, but the card just keeps getting more and more droolworthy. Cien also made me a believer at the last TakeOver, and I really hope he can one day fill the Latino megastar role on the main roster that Alberto del Rio failed so miserably at. Aleister Black is a unique character with an awesome moveset, and even though they have been strangely humanizing him as of late, he still has an allure not many wrestlers can lay claim to. This one’s really tough to call, but I don’t think Almas is done with the title quite yet.
Winner: Andrade “Cien” Almas
Jason: This is another one that could go either way, but I’m going to call it for Black. I feel like Almas’ five star match and excellent showing in the Royal Rumble served as proof of concept for his main roster run. I have a sneaking suspicion he will be the top heel of 205 Live by the time SummerSlam rolls around. As for Ali, dude could use some time atop the NXT mountain, and he’d make a great foil for the suit-wearing one-percenter that is EC3. Expect that match to be for the title at TakeOver: Brooklyn.
Winner: Aleister Black
Nathaniel: Almas has been pegged to be the next big Latino star since they signed him. Much like Chris Jericho almost two decades ago, it took him a while to get the style down. That is no longer a problem and putting Zelina Vega with him has been a great idea. The duo is ready for the main roster and should do well as long as they don’t get the Rusev-Lana treatment. Almas has been on a roll and Black has proven he can go, so this should be a great match.
Winner: Aleister Black, leading to him mowing down former PWG champs (Ohno, Cole, Ricochet, O’Reilly, Roddy).